Robert decided it was time for his light stroll in the fields surrounding, Kaleworth, his home village. He took his sketchbook and a pencil with him; he was too concerned about others’ opinions of him to admit to his small hobby.
It was a fine day, the sun was bright and it illuminated the planes passing each other in the azure ocean above, like tiny silver fish. He climbed up a short path at the side of the field which led him to a corner, and also the summit of the main field. From here he could see the houses of Kaleworth in neat curving rows, comparatively crowded to the open freedom his was in now. A warm breeze rushed up behind him, promising a summery outlook on the day. The fence perpendicular to the path Robert was on ran down the slope to the left, bisecting the two fields. One was covered in long, shushing grasses, Robert being the only other living thing in it, while the other was mown short by half a dozen or so wild horses that resided there.
This was the reason for his visit. Every Sunday morning, while others flocked to Church, Robert came to this place that he liked to call his own, to capture those majestic creatures with careful pencil strokes, distancing himself from human influence. He was not a deeply religious man, but he believed in becoming a better person, and disagreed entirely that the creator of all the beautiful things on earth could only be worshiped by entering an old, damp building each week. Instead, he gave thanks in his own way, by admiring and drawing the extreme natural beauty around him.
And that is what he did. He first announced his presence to the horses with the help of a few essential sugar lumps and grass that was greener on his side of the fence. Then he proceeded, as he always did, to stand and draw, starting with that marvelously balanced frame. Robert found these subjects particularly attractive as, within their group, there were two young foals. By coming every week, he could draw their stages of growth and they would be slightly different to draw each time, testing Robert’s skills. He had many drawings of the young foals dancing about and racing along the length of the fence while the more mature animals grazed peacefully in the background, but perhaps his most favoured piece was a calmer, more serene composition, of the mother horse with her soft muzzle bent over her new foal protectively. There was a slight wariness in the mother’s gaze, that Robert had caught perfectly, and the sense of comfort the mother gave her son, spread an atmosphere of pure tranquility to Robert’s study, where it hung above his desk. Staring into those eyes helped free his mind while he was piecing together a difficult case.
His friends, or rather, people who visited his house, always commented with a discerning eye on the art hung on the walls, how the eyes of the animals followed them around the room or that the lush fields in the sketches were so fluid and held movement as if the paper itself was rippling. He never told them. He never shared his secret of stealing away into the country and letting emotion flow through his pencil. They would misunderstand, become uncomfortable or even just laugh at such an absurd idea. “Robert Marchent an artist? I would sooner stuff my cat up a chimney then entertain such a lie.” Their taunts echoed in his imagination, before the calming breeze ushered them aside.
Robert withdrew a few sugar lumps and carrot sticks from his jacket pocket and offered them to the horses. He frequently did this to gain their trust in the hope that they may stay close to the fence for longer each Sunday, but today they just stared passively at his outstretched arm, the only movement being the swish of their tails as flies settled on their back. He had been coming to the same spot long enough for the horses to allow their portraits to be taken, but were by no means tame. Regrettably he stuffed the treats back into his pocket and took out his pencil and paper, focussing on the large dark stallion stood directly in front of him.
The dark horse towered above Robert and stood watching him head on. Robert had originally planned on drawing the foals again, but was disappointed to notice their absence from the field. He wasn’t going to waste this opportunity to try and capture the proud defiance in the strong structure of the fine specimen before him. The horse flared his nostrils and stamped a hoof with a deep thud. Proud defiance had become anger, a new emotion for Robert to depict. The horse took a sure step forward. Man and horse, their heads now just a sketchpad’s length apart. Robert stared long into the creature’d dark eyes. He did not see anger in them, nor defiance; he saw fear.
The fear reflected into Robert’s eyes as the great horse reared up suddenly, ears back in panic. The other around him had abandoned their peaceful grass munching and were now galloping hard up and down the field, so close to the fence they were barely missing the barbed wire at their sides. They were constantly gaining speed and losing control, their strides becoming increasingly haphazard, scraping the mud and throwing clods of earth in every direction. All the while their frantic eyes were fixed on Robert, as if his presence were offensive to their routine, but there was no mistaking the terror was induced from a being outside their world. They did not show intentions of harming Robert, only warning him away from their paddock. But why?
Heart pumping up through his throat, Robert remained rooted to the spot. Still the horses’ hooves pounded the ground and still the alpha male of the herd stood strong, facing him off with another loud snort.
“What is it you’re so afraid of all of a sudden?” said Robert, aloud. To his surprise the horse in front of him turned sharply to right, presenting Robert with his side view, and only now did Robert notice the deep, messy gash on the horse’s left side. It had already drawn the attention of several drowsy flies and showed no sign of healing.
Robert knew he couldn’t touch him: that was one of the unspoken rules of their agreement, unless there was a sugar lump in the hand of course. Robert wouldn’t dare touch the wound anyway, he was well aware of his own scarce medical abilities. He studied the cut more closely: it was about an inch deep, now loosely clotted, still sticky, and shaped to a smooth arc spanning from shoulder to flank. The attacker was human, that was clear. Only a man-made instrument could leave such an even cut on a wild animal. The cut was not intended to kill, only to weaken and scare; a form of slow torture meant to agonise and force obedience into the stallion. Someone was trying to use these horses, and as Robert backed away his lingering thoughts returned to the absence of the foals, now shrouded with a darker tone of occurrence.
He hurried back home, earlier than he normally would have done, pausing only to look back at the horses from the safety of the next field over. They had gone. All that was left was the memory and the wind ripping through the long grasses. The whole field looked alive with horses’ manes rippling behind them, yet this was only a happy mirage of the field than reminded Robert of the rising dread and panic in those eyes.